Is This a ‘Government Tracking Device’ for Automobiles?

The government has not historically been interested in tracking the wear of citizens' automobile tires.

  • Published 25 September 2019

Claim

A photograph shows a type of "government tracking device" used on automobiles.

Rating

Origin

Technologies for remotely tracking the movement of automobiles have existed for decades, but earlier versions were typically limited in range, efficiency, and/or lifespan. The advent of GPS technology, however, has led to the development of devices that enable the reliable tracking of a vehicle’s location, speed, and direction of travel from virtually anywhere on the globe.

Since such tracking devices are no longer solely the province of spy films and literature, it’s not so far-fetched that some people might be concerned whether any such gadgets have been furtively introduced to their own vehicles, a concept represented by the following meme:

Of course, those in the know recognize this meme to be a joke, and a rather ridiculous one at that. But to whatever extent the meme “works,” it does so because it references an object that is common in the automotive world, yet many motorists remain unaware of what its actual function is.

The object seen here is variously known as a “wheel weight,” a “balance weight, or a “wheel balance weight”:

These weights have nothing to do with “tracking” — they are used during the process of a “wheel balance” (or “wheel rebalance”), a procedure that ensures tires and wheels have equal weight distribution so as to eliminate vibration and excessive or uneven tire wear:

Tire balancing is a tune-up for your wheel-tire set. It makes sure that weight is evenly distributed around the entire circumference of the unit. The common symptoms of out-of-balance tires are uneven and faster tread wear, poor fuel economy, and vibration in the steering wheel, the floorboard or the seat that gets worse at faster speeds.

When all areas of the wheel-tire unit are as equal in weight as possible, the tire will roll smoothly. This helps it wear evenly, for longest life. Balancing also contributes to ride comfort: Imbalanced tires will wobble or hop up and down, which causes vibration. If a front tire isn’t properly balanced you’ll likely feel vibration in the steering wheel. If the problem is in the rear the tremor will be noticeable in the seat or floor.

Imbalanced tires are easily corrected, but the work is precise. It’s done by attaching small weights, just fractions of ounces, to the wheel.

Just half an ounce in weight difference is enough to cause a vibration when you’re driving.

If you see any of these on your car, leave them alone — they’ve been placed there for an important, non-governmental reason.